Demand undiminished in China for human placentas

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Fresh human placentas continue to be secretly sold in underground markets in China, despite a ban, Chinese media quoted insiders of this illegal industry on Monday, state media reports.

Underground dealers buy discarded placentas, with a strong smell of blood, from hospitals, funeral parlors and medical waste treatment plants for around 80 yuan (US$12) each, and sell them to illegal shops or for several hundred yuan after being processed, said an investigative report published on on Monday.

The Global Times found on Monday that human placentas were being sold on shopping websites including Xianyu, a secondhand item trading platform from Alibaba. Most sellers use vague names to describe their products, instead of directly advertising them as placentas.

One of the retailers sold placentas for 360 yuan each on Xianyu. “I could cut the price to 260 yuan if you buy more,” he told the Global Times reporter. “We purchase the raw material at 2,000 yuan per kilogram.”

Currently, hospitals in China either return the placentas to their owners or dispose of them as medical waste if new mothers don’t want them, according to Huang Chengsheng, an obstetrician at the Shanghai Sixth People’s Hospital with six years of experience.

Many new mothers choose to take their placentas home and eat them, Huang said.
It is common that Chinese people, especially the elders, eat human placentas, which, they believe are rich in nutrients and is good for their health, several mothers told the Global Times on Monday.

A mother of a 22-month-old baby from northwestern Shaanxi province said that before she gave birth, both her mother and mother-in-law had asked her for her placenta. The two wanted to eat her placenta to nourish the body, recalled the mother surnamed Chen.

But Chen asked the hospital to dispose of her placenta. “I don’t want them to eat it,” she told the Global Times. “That’s disgusting.”

Another mother in Shanghai, who requested not to be named, said that after giving birth, she sent her placenta to a local shop near a hospital where it was processed into powder and packed into capsules. 
“It was for my father-in-law, who is in poor health,” she told the Global Times, saying that the processing was fast and cost less than 500 yuan.

Processing placenta into capsules has become a business in China, as some may feel uncomfortable to eat it directly. A businesswoman engaged in placenta processing in eastern Zhejiang province said she provides door-to-door services for families who have just given birth to children.

She said she customers in recent years have dropped because she is no longer allowed to post ads on legal online platforms. “But the actual demand is still strong,” she added, noting that there are still many people asking where they can process placentas.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) experts and frontline pharmacists consulted by the Global Times, nonetheless, discourage people from consuming placentas because they are not that beneficial and pose health risks.

“In ancient TCM, human placenta was mainly used to enhance immunity, or to treat asthma and bronchitis,” said a TCM pharmacist surnamed Yao, who works for a public hospital in central Hunan province. It is never a cure-all as some people think, Yao noted.

Worse still, some human placentas may contain infectious viruses such as HIV, Hepatitis B and syphilis, Huang said. “It is possible to be infected through eating unsanitary placentas,” he said.

In China, illicit trading of human placenta can be punished under the Regulations on the Administration of Medical Wastes, although there are no laws specifically targeting it, said legal expert, Zhang Bo. Violators of the regulation usually receive a fine that is not more than five times the amount of the illegal profits, he said.

Zhang suggests authorities should intensify the crackdown on illegal trading through harsher punishment. “If the fine is raised to, for example, 50 times the amount of the illegal profits, offenders might think twice about the cost of their crime,” he said.